Proponents of meditation say it can …
• Lower blood pressure
• Reduce stress
• Improve circulation
• Minimize pain
• Increase concentration
• Boost immunity
• Reduce insomnia
• Decrease anxiety
In a Thai cave, 12 boys and their soccer coach sat still and focused, slowly and calmly breathing in and out. Around them, rain water surged, trapping them 2½ miles deep for more than two weeks.
Few of us would have had such presence of mind. Fortunately for the soccer team, their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, had studied as a Buddhist monk for 10 years and could meditate for up to an hour at a time, according to his family.
The goal of meditation is to achieve a state of peace by observing your thoughts and feelings rather than becoming immersed in them. Instead of giving into panic, you acknowledge your fears and dark thoughts, but know, like all things, they too will pass.
Emergency workers worldwide lauded Chanthawong for keeping the boys in the right state of mind to make a rescue feasible. The entire soccer team escaped the cave unharmed.
Researchers have found that meditation appears to have a host of benefits, not only in times of crisis, but in the general coping with our everyday stressful lives. A discipline thousands of years old, meditation has become a wholly secular and global practice, widely credited with enhancing people’s health and general well-being.
The scientific health benefits of meditation
Meditation is generally considered safe for healthy people, but there have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen anxiety, depression or other psychiatric problems. People with existing mental health conditions should speak with their health care providers before starting any meditative practice.
■ Anti-aging: A UCLA study found that people who meditated regularly during a period of 20-plus years had more gray matter volume throughout their brain, which helped stave off the effects of aging.
■ Memory boost: Harvard scientists observed that after eight weeks of meditation, people’s brain structure changed. Cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, increased, as did areas of the brain that regulate emotion. Brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety and stress, decreased.
■ Blood pressure drop: A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that 40 of 60 patients with high blood pressure who started meditating showed a significant enough drop in their blood pressure that they could stop taking medication for the affliction.
■ Depression relief: Johns Hopkins researchers discovered that meditation reduced the symptoms of depression to the same degree as antidepressants.
■ Addiction control: University of Washington scientists found that prison inmates who were taught meditation and practiced it for three months drank 87 percent less alcohol and used 89 percent less marijuana than they had before practicing mindfulness. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that smokers who meditated curtailed their smoking by 60 percent, even if they had no intention of quitting.
How to meditate
■ Mantras. Repeat a phrase, word or sound over and over, out loud or silently in your mind, to help focus your attention.
■ Open-eye meditation Focus on an object, such as the flame of a candle or a crystal, until your peripheral vision starts to blur.
■ Visualization. Create an imaginary scene in your mind that feels calming, such as a sandy beach, peaceful mountaintop or lush forest. Explore the space, experiencing the sights, smells, sounds and scenery.
■ Body scan. Move from your toes to your head, concentrating on relaxing each part of your body.
Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness about what’s happening in our bodies and minds from moment to moment. The goal is to become mindful throughout all parts of the day and in all experiences.
1. Choose a peaceful environment. Put away your phone and turn off the TV. Background noise is fine, just be sure sounds won’t be jarring or distracting. Calm, repetitive music or a water fountain can help set the mood.
2. Sit or lie comfortably. Concentrate on your body position and practice good posture. Close your eyes and breathe naturally.
3. Focus your attention on your breath and on how your body reacts when the air moves in and out of your lungs. Pick a spot above your navel and track it as it rises and falls with your abdomen. If your mind wanders, don’t worry. Take a moment to think about where your mind went, then return your concentration to your breathing. Meditate for two to three minutes at a time in the beginning. As you improve, try it for increasingly longer periods.
Meditation in the classroom
Aim to meditate at the same time each day.
A San Francisco school district began a twice-daily meditation program in high-risk schools and saw suspensions decrease, GPAs rise and attendance increase. At an urban elementary school in the Midwest, two months of weekly 45-minute meditation, yoga and breathing sessions led to significantly less hyperactive behavior and inattentiveness in students. The improvements were maintained even after the meditation sessions ended.
Meditation isn’t easy, especially for beginners. Instruction from an experienced teacher can help.
• RYK Yoga and Meditation Center: 8450 W. Sahara Ave., Suite 109, Las Vegas. rykyoga.com
• Las Vegas Meditation: 7224 Fury Lane, Las Vegas. lasvegasmeditation.org
• TM Las Vegas: 8360 W. Sahara Ave., Suite 235, Las Vegas. tm.org/transcendental-meditation-las-vegas
If classes aren’t an option, try downloading a guided meditation track.
• Calm (free with trial, in-app purchases, premium subscription options). Guided meditations, breathing exercises, sleep stories, soothing sounds
• Insight Timer (free, in-app purchases, premium subscription option). Guided meditations, meditation timer, music tracks, background sounds, kid content
• Headspace (free, in-app purchases, premium subscription option). Guided meditations, daily and mini meditations, mindfulness techniques, sleep sounds
• Buddhify ($4.99, in-app purchases, annual membership option). Custom meditation programs, mindfulness exercises, solo timer, kid content